11 December 2008

Birds of the Halafian Culture

Berkay Dinçer
Ornithology and Archaeology
Birds are bio-indicator animals. It means that they reflect very much about the environment they live. Presence or absence of some certain bird species gives very much information about the ecosystem. There are nearly ten thousand bird species living in the entire world and nearly 450 of them are observed in Turkey. For the archaeologist, bird bones found at ancient sites, can give a lot of information about the environment and catchment areas of the past humans. Humans also made many images of birds in the prehistoric art. Most famous drawings of birds from Anatolia are from Çatalhöyük. There are vulture (Gyps fulvus or Aegypius monachus) pictures on the walls of the houses. Birds have also a great role in the mythologies of later times.

Halafian Culture
Halafian culture, dated between 7000-6400 years BP, was existed in the region between the eastern Mediterranean coast and the Zagros Mountains. Clay analysis showed that painted pottery of the Halafian culture was produced in certain settlements and distributed to other sites. Some of the most important Halafian settlements are Tell Arpachiyyah, Tell Halaf, Tell Aswad, Tell Brak, Nineveh and in Turkey; Kargamış, Yunus, Cavi Tarlası and Grikihaciyan.

I just tried to find if I can draw some conclusions about the bird drawings from the painted pottery of the Halafian culture. I have just read these texts that you can find their full bibliography in the Turkish page: Mallowan-Rose 1935, Merpert-Munchaev 1993a, 1993b, Müller-Karpe 1968, and Oppenheim 1943. Those bibliographies were about Tell Arpachiyyah, Yarim Tepe I and II, Tepe Gaura and Tell Halaf.

Images of Birds in Painted Pottery
Some of the bird drawings were so stylistic that I couldn’t be sure what they are. The birds that I am sure about are flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), stork (Ciconia ciconia or nigra), spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), eagle owl (Bubo bubo), great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus), and swan (Cygnus olor). Some others that I am not very sure about are snow goose (Anser caerulescens), black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) and eagle.

Distribution of the Halafian culture includes the region of main bird migration routes. So we can divide "birds of the Halafian culture" into three main groups: Summer immigrants, winter immigrants and trajectory birds.

As archaeologists find bird bones at the excavation, the bones could be related only to the diet. But on the pottery, we can find birds that were not only eaten. We can find the ideas of ancient people in the drawings. So those drawings must have a meaning to the people who drew them on the pottery. We must keep in mind that this meaning can change through time and culture. In some of the drawings, we can define the bird species easily, because they are drawn naturalistically. This means that Halafian people observed the nature very carefully. Four bird species that I am sure what they are, includes flamingo, grebe, swan and spoonbill which live in the lakes and swamps. This means that the Halafian people had close relations with those kinds of ecosystems. As a general result, understanding the birds of the past cultures may shed light into the past environments, diets and uses of natural areas as well as the mythologies.

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